Missouri Wildlife with Kaje: A Plea in Favor of the Polyphemus Moth.

It’s autumn. Recall autumn memories from your past, and see if there are any giant green caterpillars involved. Say, up to three inches of soft inchy-squinchy goofiness. You may have even seen one recently. This is the caterpillar stage of the Polyphemus moth, Antheraea polyphemus. It’s a giant silk moth (family Saturniidae) and is one of Missouri’s largest moths.



Now, when one sees a three inch caterpillar gallumping around, one might be tempted to squish it. Please don’t! It doesn’t matter how vividly colored their insides are! Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t harm the Polyphemus Moth.

They’re so much more fun alive.

Let one crawl on your arm. Some of the feet are suckers, and some are these blunt little claws. If you have hairy arms, it might try to nibble on your hairs. It feels so weird; but don’t spaz out or you might hurt it. Also, don’t do this to an unsuspecting person. They probably didn’t read this article and all the good arguments it contains for not squishing the Polyphemus.

It’s not going to do you any harm.

I know what you’re thinking- “An animal that’s a hundredth of my size is roaming around on my property? Is my family safe? Should I call the authorities?” Well, you can relax, my friend. The Polyphemus Moth is completely harmless. Unless you eat it. Don’t eat it. I have no idea what will happen if you do that.

“Ah! But what of my plants, you brazen caterpillar smoocher?” Don’t worry about it! While it’s true that they feast on many species of plants (especially trees like oak), they never occur in large enough numbers to do much damage. Also, they only do that while they’re caterpillars. When they turn into adults, not only do they not eat your plants, they have no digestive system at all! The adults only live to reproduce and get eaten by other animals. They are also pretty. I’ll elaborate later.

The Bible says killing Polyphemus Moth caterpillars is an abomination.

It’s true! It’s sandwiched between the verse where Jesus calls for well-regulated militias and the verse where he extols the virtues of free market capitalism. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Polyphemus Moths make good science projects.

Know a kid who’s off to a new school year and wants to make a good impression? Just catch him or her a Polyphemus Moth! Put it in a big see-through container (the caterpillar, not the kid) with lots of leaves. Keep supplying fresh leaves until it cocoons. Then have them take it to class and tell the teacher that he should put it on the shelf and make it the Class Caterpillar. The teacher will like it because it’s educational, and the kid’s classmates will like it because they get to go outside when it hatches in the spring. I did this every year up until high school, and it was always a hit!

They are wicked pretty.

The caterpillars are certainly a lovely shade of green, but they’re nothing compared to the adult.

Thank you for not squishing me!

Thank you for not squishing!

Nice, huh? Check out those eyespots! In Greek myth, Polyphemus was the name of the Cyclops that terrorized Odysseus. You probably already know that a Cyclops is a giant that has only one eye. Apparently the guy who named the Polyphemus moth didn’t know that. He may have just run out of famous two-eyed giants.

If I have done my job, you are now convinced that the Polyphemus is both dope and fly. The Polyphemus Moth provides brownie points, photo opportunities, babes (did I mention the babes? There are babes!), food for wildlife, lessons in Greek mythology, and an all around good time for all. Go forth, and make friends with arthropod larvae. I hope you enjoyed today’s installment of Missouri Wildlife with Kaje. Next time’s topic: Turkey Buzzards: Teabaggers of the Sky.


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